Back then a handshake and a promise were all Mike Lemos needed to help his neighbors out. Back then, dairy farms were common and ranches ruled the landscape. Back then, the children who lived on farms and ranches occasionally skipped school to ensure their chores were done. Back then, Mike delivered bales of hay from the back of an old flatbed truck. The year was 1972, and Lemos Feed (which later became Lemos Feed & Pet Supply) consisted of one hard-working guy, his even harder-working truck, and his penchant for great customer service.
Today, Lemos Feed and Pet Supply has 14 locations, from Carpenteria at the south end, to Paso Robles at the north end; and more than 100 employees, many of whom are long-term. Pet lovers across two counties know they can count on Lemos for everything from treats to treatments, vitamins to veterinary clinics, bird food to bone builders. All things pet, and all pets included: dogs, cats, birds, snakes, chickens, rabbits, and horses. You’ll find carriers, strollers, collars, dog- and cat- houses, sprays, pet doors, ear meds, and chicken treats … Wait, what? Yes, even chickens need a treat now and then. There’s even CBD oil, and raw food options, to mention just two of the more recent offerings.
Much has changed since those early days when customers could pay later, or pay in favors or baked goods— when helping our neighbors was just as important as making a profit. But one thing hasn’t, and that’s treating others well. Mike Lemos is “old school” when it comes to being responsible and respectful. Raised on a ranch in South County with seven brothers and sisters, he learned selflessness and the value of hard work early in life from his parents, Tony and Isobel. His folks were among the many first-generation Portuguese families who settled the Central Coast. Tony was born in Portugal and came here to raise livestock. Isobel was the “hardest working woman I’ve ever known,” said Mike.
On-the-job training takes on new meaning when you look at Mike Lemos’s resume. He graduated from Mission High School in 1967 and went right to work on the family ranch, raising livestock with his father. There was no time for sports or other extracurricular activities. The chores always came first, and Mike recalls spending many an all-nighter in the barn, with an animal in crisis or giving birth. He’s been feeding livestock and milking cows for as long as he can remember. “I’m just a country boy,” he says. A country boy with a head for business, a passion for pets, and a supportive family.
Mike and his wife, Debi, have three daughters. There’s Lisa, who works as a banker in San Luis Obispo; Michelle, Lemos’s operations manager, and her husband James, Lemos’s distribution manager; and Melissa, who works as a photographer’s assistant and is designing her own line of shoes. Mike says his family has been very important to the success of his company. And then, of course, there’s Jack, the family dog—an Aussie Shepherd they adopted 10 years ago. Jack is the company mascot. Tullulah is a poodle-cross who joined the family a little later.
Another example of Mike’s business savvy is evident in the now-famous company slogan, which he admits just came to him in the shower one day. “If your pets could talk, they’d say Lemos!” Dogs, cats, birds, even buffaloes. You see …
Twenty years ago, Mike bought a half dozen buffalo from the Hearst Ranch. Today, they are all gone but one. Over the years, those buffalo attracted lots of visitors to the Lemos warehouse property on Los Berros Road in Arroyo Grande. Couples have been married there (with proud buffalo in the background), vacationing families have stopped there to have photos taken with them, even school busses full of 4th graders on a field trip have shown up there.
The transition from feeding livestock to domestic pets came in the late ‘70s, early ’80s. Previous to that, the focus was entirely on feed for horses plus saddles and tack. Before long, Mike’s old flatbed truck turned into 5 more hay trucks and a lot more hours on the road. By the end of the ‘70s, he began to bring in pet food and by 1985, the transformation from livestock to pets was nearly complete. Today, Mike and his staff attend trade shows to stay on the leading edge of the industry.
Every year, Lemos Feed & Pet Supply celebrates its anniversary in May with a very big sale. Though there are elaborate plans for their 50th, Mike enjoys marking the day every year to honor his staff and thank his customers. And to enjoy another successful year in business. In today’s market, with so many online options for pet supplies, it’s a tribute to the company that Lemos Feed continues to thrive. How does he do it?
“Pretty simple,” Mike replied, naming three elements he believes to be critical. 1. Prices. The company buys directly from manufacturers, so prices are kept low, competitive with other stores – online or brick & mortar. 2. Hiring practices. The company hires for a friendly, helpful attitude, integrity, and a passion for pets and their people. 3. Training practices. Everyone receives tons of training in customer service and they are encouraged to learn as much as they can about the products they sell.
“It’s important to me that everyone who steps inside Lemos has a positive experience,” said Mike. “My name might be on the shingle hanging on that wall,” he continued. “But it’s the family environment and great staff who make us who we are.”
While the inventory at Lemos Feed & Pet Supply is extensive and exhaustive, Mike doesn’t sell the actual animals themselves. He’s a strong advocate for our county’s shelters and hopes people will consider adoption first. If you buy a pet, Mike suggests finding a reputable breeder so that you know the owners and can trust the parentage.
Maybe life was a lot simpler in 1972 when your word was your bond and trust was easier to come by. Maybe some of us miss the days when a homemade pie could be traded for a bale of hay. Maybe the days when excellence in customer service was the rule, not a rarity, are in shorter and shorter supply. But Mike Lemos wants you to know that his word, your trust, and treating people well have always been—and will always be— the most important products he carries.